Most helpful critical review
5 stars for beauty, 2 stars for usefulness
on November 7, 2003
I think the title of my review wraps it all up: the eyewitness guides are a work of graphic art. Their highlight is probably the great work on the maps, both small and large scale, which are of great help as you navigate around the cities and country looking for sights. As a tool for reaching all of the sights you want to see, I would say that the Eyewitness Guide is among the best, with its regional maps, street maps, neighborhood maps and Metro/subway guides. In addition to this, as another positive comment I would say that it is a great guide to take on a trip if you don't have much time and you need information presented in an easy-to-read, simple manner. The drawings and photos, and the way they are laid out, is very appealing. In fact, this guidebook is almost better just for getting an idea of what Italy looks like than as an actual guidebook to be used in the city itself. You might want it more as a keepsake after your trip than as a tool on the trip.
The advantages stop there, however. If you really want to get to know a city, you simply need more in-depth historical and cultural information on the sights you are seeing. Most of the locations described in the Eyewitness Guide do not stretch beyond a paragraph or two, which is quite superficial in my opinion. If you really want to know about the history behind the church, monument, museum, castle or park you have traveled so far to see, you will definitely need another guidebook to give you any kind of detail. When I went to Italy, I rented a car and thought that the pictures would help me choose whether to travel to one town or another, due to the photographically oriented focus of the book, but in the end, even the pictures are a bit superficial: for many towns, the only pictorial representation is part of a panel from the façade of a church, or a photograph of a fountain. Hardly enough to make a decision on whether to spend your next day in one Tuscan town or another.
Harsh critique also for the hotel and restaurant information, which is limited to places designed for the rich and famous, or at least the very upper of the upper-middle class. The best guides give you a little info. on all styles of lodging and food, from low budget to luxury, but these guides make little effort to do so, and even the information on the laps of luxury is limited to little symbols, instead of providing descriptions like other guides do.
With this combination of characteristics, I think Eyewitness is good to take along for a short trip in which you have little time to spend seeing places and you don't really care about getting any deep information on what you're seeing. Otherwise, keep looking for another guidebook, especially for a country like Italy, where background information and history are just as fascinating as the actual monuments and buildings.